GENEVA: Muslim countries have won a battle to prevent Islam from being criticized during debates by the UN Human Rights Council.
Religions deserve special protection because any debate about faith is bound to be very complex, very sensitive and very intense, council President Doru-Romulus Costea said Wednesday.
Only religious scholars should be allowed to discuss matters of faith, he told journalists in Geneva.
While Costea s ban applies to all religions, it was prompted by Muslim countries complaining about references to Islam.
Costea issued his presidential ruling Monday during the eighth meeting of the council s 47 members, which do not include the United States. The ruling will not affect findings by the council s experts, just its chamber debates.
On Monday Egypt, Pakistan and Iran angrily protested attempts by a humanist group to link Islam to human rights abuses such as female genital mutilation and so-called honor killings of women.
The interventions sparked a heated debate which threatened to sour the mood of the meeting ahead of important votes on the future of the council s work.
The council was created two years ago to replace the discredited UN Human Rights Commission. Its resolutions carry no legal weight but are intended to throw a spotlight on governments that abuse their citizens.
This council is not prepared to discuss religious matters in depth, consequently we should not do it, Costea ruled after an emergency break to calm the situation.
To continue a debate on this in the Human Rights Council will mean to open the door to purely political approaches, Costea later told journalists on Wednesday.
Discussing the religious reasons for human rights abuses would be unhelpful, to say the least, for both the human rights in question and for a true, genuine dialogue among followers of various religions, he added.
A spokesman for human rights group Amnesty International said the move was consistent with attempts by some governments to create no-go zones in the council.
If Pakistan can come and say that the murder of women for some perverse sense of honor has nothing to do with universally recognized human rights, we re in trouble, Peter Splinter told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Egypt, too, has repeatedly tried to stop Islamic law – or sharia – from being discussed, he said.
In March, the council resolved to have its expert on free speech investigate individuals and news media for negative comments about Islam.
The American ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Warren Tichenor, cited that decision as one reason why the US is pulling back from the council, where Western countries are in a minority.
The United States, which is not a council member but can speak during debates, announced earlier this month that it would only participate in the forum when absolutely necessary.
Washington has vocally complained that the council focuses too much on Israel, while treating autocratic governments such as Cuba and Myanmar with a light touch.
Meanwhile, the council also decided Wednesday to allow countries to call for the sacking of the council s independent rights experts after three years.
Good mandate holders who do their job right upset governments, said Splinter of Amnesty.
Any government which feels upset can now complicate the reappointment of an expert. This is going to have a stifling effect, potentially a serious one, he said.